Great with Frogs’ Legs

Viogniers with hints of honey, maple, grapefruit ... and canned beans.

In the official tasting notes for his 2006 Kathy’s Cuvee Viognier, East Bay wine great Kent Rosenblum suggests pairing this “exotic and seductive” apricot- and peach-scented Rhône white with — but of course — frogs’ legs.

Not on the menu tonight chez vous? Don’t despair — this typically light but strongly scented wine is also an excellent accompaniment to poultry and seafood in rich sauces, all kinds of cheeses, and dishes with a smoky flavor. Now that grilling season is upon us, you should feel free to pair it with barbecued anything — even frogs’ legs.

Although the Viognier grape originates in France’s Northern Rhône Valley, we looked instead to wines from Argentina’s Mendoza region, South Australia’s Barossa Valley, and, here in our own backyard, California’s northern interior valley. Viognier earns special praise in Australia for its supporting role as a blending grape with that Aussie fave, Shiraz, but it’s also gaining attention for the lean, fragrant wines it produces by itself. California’s Viogniers tend toward sweetness and high alcohol content, while those from Argentina are said to be fruit-forward and intense.

Even though I’m not a fan of sweeter wines, I still enjoyed the nonvintage California Viognier from Pepperwood Grove ($5.99), the bargain label produced by Sonoma-based Don Sebastiani & Sons. With a nutty, clean aroma, a lemony taste, and a crisp aftertaste, this light, subtly sweet wine would be a crowd-pleaser with barbecued chicken or spicy grilled fish. Not our Token Winemaker’s favorite, but he did give it points for variety, noting honey, maple, grapefruit, and canned beans in an aroma reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc.

Sharing the Pepperwood Grove’s same light crispness, but a bit bitter for my taste, was the 2005 Yalumba Viognier ($7.99) from Australia’s oldest family-run winery. The color was interesting — a greenish pale yellow — but an aroma hinting of rot left something to be desired. Odd but inoffensive was my verdict; our Token Winemaker found it nicely balanced with an aftertaste that “leaves quickly but cleanly.”

Since dry whites are more our thing, we both loved the 2006 Santa Julia ($8.50) from Mendoza’s Viognier pioneers, Familia Zuccardi. The aroma had lots going on — a grassy tartness giving way to an effervescent seashore vibe — and the taste was full of flowers and citrus, both fresh and refreshing. I didn’t enjoy the aftertaste on this one, but the rest of its characteristic varietal qualities overshadowed any flaw there. Chill a case for your next barbecue.

As for that Rosenblum offering that goes oh-so-well with sautéed amphibians, it’s a bit over our budget at $18 a bottle — but you can try it any day of the week for free at the winemaker’s tasting room (2100 Main St., Suite 1100, Alameda,


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